The Beacon

Blog Tags: Endangered Species Act

Oceana Launches Lawsuit to Protect Sea Turtles

Loggerheads need protection ©Wikimedia Commons

Oceana, along with the Center for Biological Diversity and the Turtle Island Restoration Network, announced last week that they intend to sue the federal government over its failure to designate critical habitat areas for loggerhead sea turtles in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans – an action required under the Endangered Species Act but that has not yet been done.

Loggerhead sea turtles currently face threats from commercial fisheries, habitat destruction, and climate change along our coasts and throughout the Gulf of Mexico. Unfortunately population recovery efforts are slow, as turtles are long-lived animals that typically don’t reach sexual maturity until 20-35 years of age.

The designation of critical habitat is expected to help restore plummeting population numbers, as species with identified critical habitat are more than twice as likely to show recovery in overall numbers. The designation of critical habitat will likely protect nesting and foraging grounds that are important to the survival and recovery of these turtles.

In order to designate critical habitat, the federal government must first identify areas that are essential to the survival and recovery of the species.  More than 90 percent of the U.S. Atlantic nesting population of loggerheads nests on U.S. beaches along the eastern coast of Florida.   Critical habitat designation is vital to the survival and recovery of threatened and endangered species. Every day the government delays means more turtles caught in nets and more habitat areas destroyed without consideration of the impacts on the population.


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Great White Shark Petition Moves Forward

Facing extinction ©Wikimedia Commons

We have good news to share: the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has looked at our petition to have West Coast great white sharks listed as an endangered species – a petition 44,000 of you backed – and has agreed to take it to the next level!

Having agreed that these sharks may qualify for endangered status, NMFS will now spend the next nine months researching the sharks and will announce their final decision in June 2013.

This is an important milestone, and we want to thank you for helping make it happen. Those 44,000 signatures showed that great whites have supporters across the country and that people are paying attention to what happens off our shores. We're so grateful for your help  – and the sharks are too.

Recent scientific studies show that great white sharks off the coast of California and Baja California, Mexico are genetically distinct and isolated from all other great white shark populations and that there are only a few hundred adult sharks remaining in this population.

The biggest threat to great white sharks on the West Coast right now are the gillnets that are trapping their young. We're hoping that this effort will lead to more research, increased observer coverage and management of the fisheries that are harming them, and more awareness of the importance and vulnerability of these magnificent creatures. Great white sharks are a vital part of the ocean food web, and we can’t let them disappear.

We will keep you posted as the story unfolds!


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Creature Feature: Great White Shark

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Great whites have earned a bad reputation, but they don't deserve it ©Discovery Channel

They’re the stars of Shark Week, one of the most iconic creatures in the ocean. But how well do you really know the great white shark?

White sharks are known by many names—great white, white pointer, Carcharodon carcharias, even white death. They’re the largest existing predatory fish in the ocean, and they’ve been around for about 16 million years. They’re found in coastal waters in all of the world’s major oceans.

The average great white measures in around 14 feet long (the females are generally a few feet longer than the males). An average individual weighs between 1,500 and 2,400 pounds. The largest white sharks ever measured came in around 20 feet long and weighed nearly 5,000 pounds.

All that size makes these sharks powerful predators. Their bite force is an estimated 1.8 tons—that’s 20 times the bite force of the average human! This powerful bite is coupled with multiple rows of sharp, serrated teeth that help the shark saw off pieces of fish.

Great whites also have an additional sense that allows them to detect the electromagnetic field emitted by the movement of living animals. By searching for these tiny electromagnetic pulses and using their excellent sense of smell, sharks can seek out prey from miles away.

In the social structure of white sharks, females dominate males, and size matters. They resolve conflict through rituals and displays of power, and rarely attack one another. Some sharks have even shown behavior that appears playful!

Great whites have earned a bad reputation as ferocious man-eaters due to movies like Jaws and stories about rogue sharks attacking humans. Truth is, great whites aren’t all that interested in humans. They would rather eat a fish or a seal than a human. While a significant proportion of shark accidents around the world involve white sharks, most are not fatal. Great whites are curious sharks, and will give an unknown object a sample bite, then release it.

These powerful creatures may be at the top of the food chain, but their biggest predator is humans. Only a few hundred great whites are left in the population off the coasts of California and Mexico, and they’re not getting the protection they need. Sign today to help get great whites covered by the Endangered Species Act.


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Save Shark Week’s Stars

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Great white sharks keep the oceans healthy and balanced ©NOAA

Whether you fear them or admire them, most people have an instant reaction when they hear great white shark.  

Intrigue, mystery, and terror have guided attention on great white sharks since they lit up the screens in the 1975 thriller “Jaws.” The film made history 37 years ago for its chilling characterization of these powerful sharks, and swimming in the open ocean has never been the same since.

Great whites are making history once again, this time for their globally declining populations from bycatch in commercial fisheries, capture in beach protective nets, and slaughter for their fins, teeth, and jaws in the shark fin and curio trade.

Here on the US West Coast, new scientific studies have shed light on the status of great white sharks off California and Baja California, Mexico. Our great white sharks are even more unique than we thought; in fact they are genetically distinct and isolated from all other great white sharks around the world. They congregate off Mexican Islands and the “red triangle” off Central California (including the Farallon Islands, Point Reyes, and Point Sur), and make extensive offshore migrations to the distant “white shark Café” and even to the Hawaiian Islands.

But, sadly there may be as little as a few hundred adult great white sharks remaining in this population, far less than anyone expected. This low population alone puts these great whites at great risk of extinction from natural and human-caused impacts. Continued existence of these West Coast great white sharks is threatened by their low population size, inherent vulnerability to capture, slow growth rate, low reproductive output, and the ongoing threats they face from human activities. This is why Oceana is petitioning the federal government and the state of California to list this population of iconic sharks on the Endangered Species List.

What is threatening great white sharks off California and Mexico?

Young great white sharks are un-intentionally caught as bycatch in commercial fishing entangling nets. Set and drift gillnets--which together target California halibut, yellowtail, white seabass, thresher sharks and swordfish--catch great white shark pups in their nursery grounds.

Since 1980, over 10 great white shark pups have been reported being caught in these nets every year. The scary part is that monitoring of bycatch on these fishing vessels is very low so take of these pups remains underreported. In other words, more great white sharks are caught than we are aware.

Additionally, young great white shark “pups” caught in their nursery grounds off the Southern California coast have the second highest mercury level tested on record for any sharks worldwide. These mercury levels exceed six-fold the established thresholds where harmful physiological effects have been documented in other marine fish. Levels of harmful contaminants of PCBs and DDTs in their liver tissue are the highest observed in any shark species reported to date globally.

Endangered species status will bestow additional protections to white sharks, including better monitoring and management to reduce fishery bycatch and additional research to further understand these fascinating top predators of the sea.

As much as we may fear them for their bad rap, we need great white sharks to keep our oceans healthy. Just as wolves keep deer populations under control, great white sharks play a critical top-down role in structuring the marine ecosystem by keeping prey populations in check, such as sea lions and elephant seals, benefiting our fisheries and abundant wildlife.

Listing the West Coast population of great white sharks on the Endangered Species List will help us learn more about the lives and threats of these amazing animals through additional research funding and protection measures.

Please help us in our efforts to protect US West Coast great white sharks from extinction by signing a letter of support for their listing on the Endangered Species Act.


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Get Ready for Shark Week 2012

Shark Week turns 25 this year! ©Discovery Channel

You’ve been waiting for it all summer, and now it’s finally here — Shark Week returns this Sunday, August 12th! Oceana is again a conservation partner, and we’ve got some fin-ominal stuff in store this year.

Need some help preparing for the sharkiest week of the year? Have no fear, we’re here to help! Here are some ways you can gear up for Shark Week’s 25th year:

1.    Spread the Shark Week Love
Have your friends over for a watch party. Check out Discovery’s programming schedule and pick out the shows that look the best. ”Great White Highway” follows shark scientists in their effort to solve some of the more mysterious behaviors of the most well-known shark in the world. It’s also narrated by our board member Ted Danson! Check it out on Thursday, August 16th at 9 p.m.

2.    Spend Shark Week with Oceana
We’re so excited about Shark Week that we’re going to be live-tweeting all the new shows! Follow along on our Twitter — we’ll be watching along with you and answering your shark questions. And look out for some fun Shark Week swag give-aways.

You can also share photos and stories with us via Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram.


3.    Protect Sharks
For one week a year, over 30 million Americans are glued to their TV sets, transfixed by incredible stories of amazing, powerful sharks. But the true story is that they can’t save themselves from their top predator: us.

Right now there are only a few hundred adult great white sharks remaining of the U.S. West Coast. They are in danger of extinction, but you can help. Sign today to help great whites off the West Coast get listed under the Endangered Species Act.. [link to action page] You can also help spread the word through social media by signing up at Thunderclap.it/sharkweek.

Make sure that Shark Week isn’t the only time you care about sharks. They’re great to watch on TV, but we need them in the wild, too!


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This Shark Week, Save Great Whites

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Great whites play an important role in the ocean ecosystem ©Terry Goss

During Shark Week we love watching majestic great whites on TV, but if we don’t act soon to protect them, recordings will be the only place they exist.

In the Pacific, great whites are important predators. As the largest predatory fish on the planet, they can reach lengths over 20 feet and weigh more than 5,000 pounds. They’re shaped like torpedoes and can swim through the water at speeds of up to 15 miles per hour. Great whites can detect electromagnetic currents in the ocean and have such a sharp sense of smell that they can identify blood in the water from up to 3 miles away.  You can’t deny that these are impressive animals.

As fearsome as they might be as predators, they’re not the killing machines that they’re often identified as. They use all those prey-detecting skills to help keep the marine food web intact — without great whites, the ocean’s balance would be thrown off.

But that might be what the future holds, if nothing is done. A recent study found that there may only be a few hundred adults left swimming off the coast of California and Mexico, far fewer than anyone expected. And those that are left face deadly dangers from fishing nets.

Newborn great whites are often killed by commercial fishing gear off of Southern California and Baja California, making it hard for the populations to stabilize.

Sharks have inhabited the oceans for more than 400 million years and now they’re disappearing because of human actions. We’re working to get US great whites the protection they need — sign today to help get great white sharks on the Endangered Species Act.

Shark Week starts on Sunday – stay tuned for lots more sharky updates!


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If You Were President...

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We asked our Ocean Heroes finalists: If you were elected President, what would be the first thing on your agenda?

They gave us some pretty great answers, check them out below, and don’t forget to vote for your favorite finalist! Who knows, maybe one of our finalists will be running for President themselves someday.

Adults

Michele Hunter Stop the killing of all marine mammals throughout the entire world.

Hardy Jones Expose levels of pollution.

Kristofor Lofgren I would change our energy policy, because reducing carbon and oil and gas spills, creates a healthier and less acidic ocean.

Dave Rauschkolb End offshore oil drilling.

Rick Steiner An emergency effort in clean, sustainable energy, and energy conservation, to stop climate change and its devastating impacts on marine ecosystems.

Don Voss Appoint Sylvia Earle Secretary of World's Oceans and give her free reins to establish regulations as needed.

Juniors

Sara Brenes Ban all shark finning in US, no shark products to be sold, imported or exported, create an ocean world conservation summit to try and make a plan to end shark finning, whaling and overfishing and try to create peaceful and safe ocean pact.

The Calvineers Reinforce the Endangered Species Act, especially the Marine Mammal Act so that NOAA would be better funded and more efficient at protecting marine mammals from human made dangers.

Sam Harris No killing sharks on this earth ever!!!!

James Hemphill Ban the chemical BPA from plastics to reduce the human input of toxins in the ocean.

Teakahla WhiteCloud I would ban all long-line fishing and trawler fishing and make sure all ocean laws are strictly enforced and make all reef systems National Parks.

Only a few more days of voting are left, tell us your favorite finalists today at oceana.org/heroes!

Photo Credits (clockwise from top left): Oceana/Juan Cuentos, Oceana/Maria Jose Cortex, Oceana/Carlos Suarez, Kip Evans Photography, Oceana/Carlos Suarez, Oceana/Carlos Suarez, Oceana/LX, Oceana/Juan Cuentos, Oceana/LX, Oceana/Juan Cuentos, Oceana/Enrique Talledo.


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A Big Win for Sea Turtles in the Atlantic

A loggerhead sea turtle hatchling. © Oceana/Cory Wilson

We’re happy to announce a victory for sea turtles in the Atlantic this week.

The scallop fishery has long been a threat to sea turtles, who get caught up and drowned in the heavy equipment. Scallops are often collected by dredges— heavy metal nets attached to a flat scoop that drags along the ground, collecting everything large enough to fit in the net. These dredges are hazards in sea turtle habitats, where they catch, drag, and drown sea turtles along with the desired scallops.

All six sea turtle species in the United States are threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act, making these deaths all the more tragic.

Fortunately, there’s a new type of gear that includes something called a Turtle Deflector Device (TDD). With a TDD, dredges can push sea turtles out of harm’s way instead of pulling them into the nets.

This week, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) announced new regulations for the Atlantic scallop fishery that will require TDDs in areas and during times when sea turtles are known to be present.

We are excited about these new rules, which will save many sea turtle lives.

Gib Brogan, our Northeast representative, said that “Oceana is relieved that after 10 years of requests, NMFS has finally taken action to reduce the scallop fishery’s deadly interaction with threatened sea turtles. We support TDDs as a solution to sea turtle bycatch in the scallop fishery and commend the industry and its research partners for their work to develop this new gear.”


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